Editor’s Note: A Night at the Metro
Something astonishing happened last night, though I doubt anyone noticed. Severe pain, mainly in the lower abdomen but occasionally stabbing through my lower back, left me writhing on the floor. Nothing amazing about this, since millions of people suffer far greater suffering for extensive periods of time. Nor was my body’s immediate response anything special. Physical damage left me in a state of mild delirium. That’s insignificant in the face of the scale of the horrors I read about every day, whether they be past, ongoing, or still to come.
What was astonishing and historically remarkable was what happened next. I called up a relative of mine on a cellular phone, who proceeded to pick me up in an air conditioned car and drive me to Metro Health, a hospital in Wyoming, Michigan. There, I was admitted, triaged, and whisked to a treatment room within an hour. Every room was outfitted with precise electronic instruments, the hospital had a readily-available supply of IV-administered painkillers and nausea suppressants, and I was laid down in a comfortable bed. I was even given a blanket that had been pre-warmed in an oven. The doctor administered a strong dose of antibiotics once the results of a CT scan confirmed that the source of my pain was a urinary tract infection. I chatted amiably through the whole experience, feeling not fear but a sense of relief and levity. A urinary tract infection was nothing. Why, I wouldn’t even have to be cut open! A daily regimen of narcotic pain medication and antibiotics–scrupulously consumed until I had nothing but an empty bottle–would put me back in good health within a mere ten days. At this moment, I am feeling only a small twinge of abdominal pressure and feel quite content basking in the cloud-filtered sunlight of my grandparents’ sun/puzzle room.
That is the story so far. I have, however, excluded one small detail that has captured my attention and forced me to reflect. When I called my uncle at his house a mere ~ten minutes distant, he had only just arrived at his house, having been recreating in a church-operated campground for the past few days. During and after my stint in the hospital, he referred to this as “God’s timing.” Perhaps this is so. I have no real stake in whether it is or not, though I have my doubts. If it truly is “God’s timing” that spared me a longer wait to get to the hospital, however, my specific position in history is every bit as much a product of divine intervention. I can scarcely imagine the cosmic chain of historical happenings that had to work in such a way so that I have made it to twenty years old, much less survived what we now think of as a “minor” infection. Two hundred years ago, I might be dead or debilitated. If I weren’t in a middle class white family, living so near a hospital, I have no idea what might have happened. Every contingent aspect of my life, including the fact of my life’s existence, rests on an unstable, even chaotic string of events. I don’t feel guilty for living, even though many others around the world and in history have certainly died from my same condition. Instead, I am grateful and humbled. All the resource exploitation, systematic organization, and scientific research that went into the single act of providing my health care–I didn’t even stay overnight or need surgery!–stuns me into silence.
This brings me to, of all things, a thought on capitalism. Capitalism, being predicated on a fantasy of infinite growth on a materially limited planet, will either be put to death or bring the human race to extinction. Our constant pursuit of a “better” future can only lead, in a great ironic U-turn, to an eventual oblivion. And yet I owe my life to that same misguided, unrestrained, and callous exploitation of a planet and other human beings we assumed could be abused and absorbed forever. Soon, the entire human race, with me included, will need to fundamentally realign our relationship to the planet, including all of its life. For now, I struggle in the tension of realizing that my benefits almost certainly derive from some horrific injustice or another. Perhaps the true cost of my survival here, and my thriving, is this continual spur to challenge, correct, and rethink the world around me, especially those parts I take most for granted.